With all the recent press about Steve Job’s recent transition, I found my favorite smidgen at the end of this article — excerpted here.
David Sheff, freelance journalist: The Interview was all but complete when I met [Steve] Jobs at a celebrity-filled birthday party for a youngster in New York City. As the evening progressed, I wandered around to discover that Jobs had gone off with the nine-year-old birthday boy to give him the gift he’d brought from California: a Macintosh computer. As I watched, he showed the boy how to sketch with the machine’s graphics program. Two other party guests wandered into the room and looked over Jobs’s shoulder. ‘Hmmm,’ said the first, Andy Warhol. ‘What is this? Look at this, Keith. This is incredible!’ The second guest, Keith Haring, the graffiti artist whose work now commands huge prices, went over. Warhol and Haring asked to take a turn at the Mac, and as I walked away, Warhol had just sat down to manipulate the mouse. ‘My God!’ he was saying, ‘I drew a circle!’ “But more revealing was the scene after the party. Well after the other guests had gone, Jobs stayed to tutor the boy on the fine points of using the Mac. Later, I asked him why he had seemed happier with the boy than with the two famous artists. His answer seemed unrehearsed to me: ‘Older people sit down and ask, “What is it?” but the boy asks, “What can I do with it?”
For Jobs’ entire career he has believed that education and the new generation is where real differences can be made. Whether it be an “apple” computer that you would give to your teacher and transform learning, or a NeXT box that was aimed specifically at higher education, or an animation company like Pixar that helped Disney dream again for the younger crowd.
Jobs’ particular pedagogical preference is epitomized by highlighting the difference between asking, “What is it?” versus asking, “What can I do with it?” The former perspective underlies a frame of expertise and the hunger to intellectualize and to fit what is presented into an existing space of thinking; whereas the latter approach reflects a kind of innocence and audacity embodied by a “Just do it.”-style of thinker/doer. Both are valid learning approaches that ground education today, but Jobs clearly champions learning by taking leaps and risks to a more incremental and conservative approach.
The “What is it?” frame can help you figure out what it is in relationship to other things. It can also help you successfully rally against it because you are uncomfortable with what it is (by simply not knowing what it is and being fearful). The “What can I do with it?” frame forces you to get your hands dirty and to start doing something with it until you (maybe) find what it’s good for. You may not find out what it’s good for, but if you are sufficiently audacious, you’re not going to give up and will (may) find out. The former frame requires ample courage to take on the arduous task of knowing; whereas the latter frame requires the audacity of jumping into the unknown and take on doing.
I think you really need both models of learning to be a truly prepared thinker/maker in the 21st century. And fortunately for the incoming class of 2015 here at RISD, that’s exactly what they are about to experience. Welcome back students! -JM